Another cabinet crisis
Another week, another cabinet crisis. Last week saw Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's showdown with his former colleagues in the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) over the replacement for the post of Interior Minister recently vacated by Ladislav Pittner. The KDH blinked first and the meeting of the coalition parties on Friday 18 May saw Dzurinda's man, Ivan Šimko confimed as nominee for the Pittner's old job.
This week's drama surrounded an opposition-inspired motion of no-confidence in Ivan Mikloš, the Deputy Premier for the Economy. Mikloš survived the vote on Thursday 24 May, but only after Premier Dzurinda threatened to resign if Parliament did not back his man. Mikloš has been credited with directing the Government's programme of economic reforms. The threat of his removal caused jitters on the Slovak financial markets.
The former Communists of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ threatened to back the opposition motion, despite being part of the Government themselves. The kind of reforms which have made Mikloš popular with traders on the financial markets, particularly cuts in public spending, have gone down like a lead balloon with the SDĽ's traditional supporters.
In the past week the party has made loud demands for a reconstruction of the cabinet, backed-up by threats to quit the government. Dzurinda made his own threat to quit at a meeting of the Coalition Council on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning a meeting of SDĽ MPs decided to abstain in the Mikloš no-confidence vote.
The slump in voter support for the party suggested by all recent opinion polls has largely dictated the actions of the SDĽ. All the indications are that the party would struggle to reach the five per cent threshold of voter support required to achieve seats in Parliament. The Mikloš vote and the previous week's wrangle over the Interior Ministry appear to have strengthened Dzurinda's position, but those demands for a reallocation of cabinet positions have not gone away. Watch this space.
Slovaks feel the economy is worsening
An opinion poll conducted by the Slovak Statistical Office in April and published last week makes uneasy reading for the government. The study suggests that 75 per cent of citizens feel that the economic situation has worsened in the past year, a further 57 per cent are convinced it will get worse still in the next 12 months.
Nuclear power plant shut down
The Jaslovské Bohunice nuclear power plant in western Slovakia was subject to an emergency shutdown on Tuesday 22 May. Reactors One and Two were affected by the shutdown, which was caused by a power cut at a switching station outside the plant. A spokesman for Slovak Electric, which operates the power station, said there was no damage to equipment and no threat to the health of workers or nearby residents.
Two of the plant's older reactors are due to be closed in 2006 and 2008 following an agreement linked to Slovakia's application to join the European Union.
EU urges reform of regional government
Slovakia has been warned that it cannot leave the question of reform of regional government until after the election in 2002. Lord Hanningford, chairman of the European Union Committee of the Regions' Liaison Office for Candidate Countries, told a conference in Bratislava that any postponement of public administration reform could result in a delay to Slovakia's entry to the EU.
Hanningfield believes Slovakia has the ability to join at the same time as her neighbours in the Czech Republic, although a demonstrable lack of decentralistaion could prove a sticking point. His Lordship sent a letter to Premier Dzurinda "regretting" the latter's absence from the conference on "Regional Self-Governments in Slovakia."
Reform of public administration has been a bone of contention between the rag-bag of parties that make up the Slovak government. A dispute over claims by the Hungarian minority to have their own area of devolved government in southern Slovakia has proved particularly devisive.
Roma politicians accused of profiting from emigration
The Deputy Premier for Human and Minority Rights has accused Roma politicians of profiting from the mass emigration of Roma from Slovakia. In a report issued to the cabinet, Pál Csáky says Roma representatives have used the issue to demand concessions from the Government.
The phenomenon of large numbers of Slovak Roma claiming asylum in Western Europe has proved highly embarrassing for the Government. Csáky also claims that the outflow of Roma, which he says began spontaneously, has become highly-organised on a criminal basis. "Illegal immigration has become a very lucrative business," the minister stated.
Meanwhile, Belgian authorities say it is unlikely they will reimpose visa restrictions on Slovak travellers at least in the short term. The number of Slovak citizens claiming asylum in Belgium has dropped in recent weeks after an initial rush following the lifting of visa restrictions at the end of April.
Roma called to declare ethnicity
The Roma Parliament passed a memorandum Saturday 19 May calling on all Roma to declare their Roma ethnicity in the Slovak national census. In the last census, held across Czechoslovakia in 1991, only 80,000 people living in Slovakia declared themselves to be of Roma origin.
Estimates of the true figure range as high as 500,000. It is feared that many Roma whose first language is Hungarian will declare themselves to be of Hungarian ethnicity. The census taking began on Saturday 26 May and runs to 4 June.
Robin Sheeran, 25 May 2001
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